Week Of August 6th: Weekly Assault on Democracy

Incels, cellphones and sellouts.

This is the first weekly bulletin on the assault on Indian democracy. So much happens every day, that even a week can feel overwhelming, as I can attest to after combing through my feed for the week. A day seems to short though, the conversations and reactions to the shocking revelations can sometimes span a 24 hour news cycle. And we have enough of the daily news cycle which the PR machines of our political parties pander to (and control, as we’ll see later). Some would argue that we should move away from the hot take and take the long view, but as Keynes says, In the long run, we are all dead. This is not a historical essay on India’s slide into fascism. It is a current account. Before SBI starts charging low balance fees on the account (sic), let’s do something about it.

Religious right — or religious riot?

This week the National Capital woke up to the fact that the state machinery fondly supports an annual revelry of millions of incels on the roads and highways of Northern India, looking the other way at minor offences such as drinking, loud music, looting, rioting, eve teasing, flashing, beating up policemen, damaging public and private property and holding up traffic for hours while they let their pent up frustrations out onto society. I’m talking of course, about the Kanwar Yatra, an annual ritual of Shiv bhakts bringing Gangajal to their local temples. If the helplessness of policemen unwilling or unable to control a mob from destroying and overturning a car in Delhi was not a tacit enough signal….

Video: The Logical Indian / Youtube

… then the video of a senior police official in Uttar Pradesh showering rose petals from a helicopter onto the Yatris at tax payers expense was sure to gladden the incels and give them license to continue their rampage across large swaths of the country.

14 Lakhs to charter a helicopter to “monitor Kanwar Yatra and ensure it passes off peacefully” Video: NDTV / Youtube

This is not an isolated incident, but a continuous degradation of the power of the state Police, which is already largely subservient to the whims and the fancies of the executive. All we are seeing now is the consequences of the concentration of political and religious power into a single head of state — for all practical purposes UP is currently a theocracy.

Feeling Blessed! Proud to kneel before power. (Photo: Facebook | Praveen kumar Singh)

A Tight Leash

Monday is also when The Wire ran the story of how ABP News forced out Milind Khandekar and Punya Prasun Bajpai — the team behind the show Masterstroke (pardon my ignorance, I used to assume this show was a pro-government hit job because of the title. In my defence, I’m a cord cutter). Masterstroke interviewed farmers who spoke on video conference with the Prime Minister about how their incomes had doubled, but when they met the reporter from ABP News claimed they had been coached by district officials to speak text prepared by them. This direct challenge was not taken well by the government, and over a period of a few weeks, the editor and anchor of the show were forced to resign.

Pic credit: The Wire

In the story Bajpai levelled some pretty serious allegations that suggest not just media monitoring by the Ministry of Truth and Propaganda (otherwise known as the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting), but also collusion with business to dry up funding for channels airing anti-government views (I’m looking at you Patanjali), full blown lies by the Prime Minister to the nation, and clearly illegal technical interference with his show.

रुकावट के लिए खेद है

In the backdrop of this unfolding drama is a growing concern that there is an undeclared emergency in the country. The details revealed by Bajpai confirm that this is not just a concern. Whether through coercion, corruption or co-option, The Fourth Estate is willy-nilly complicit in covering up, avoiding mention or papering over misdeeds by the government and its allies to prevent even a whiff of scandal from reaching the citizens. The independence of the press is just a myth. While Republic is the most egregious lapdog, and Times Now a co-conspirator of epic scale, other channels are not far behind in grovelling before the government.

So the government and separately the BJP are actively monitoring and muzzling the press, and their ambitions at controlling communication don’t stop there. While the government was recently forced to withdraw a plan to establish a mass surveillance wing to monitor social media, they are still looking at ways to block access to social media in the case of “emergencies”.

The executive use of internet shutdowns as a preventive measure is rising rapidly. Realising that this hampers businesses and is going to be questioned sooner or later, the government is now looking at technical options to limit the blocks to specific apps only. Monitor civilians, muzzle press, block social media… seems suspiciously like an undeclared emergency to me.


The most potent tool for mass surveillance, exclusion and targeting of minority groups and the incompetent, clueless authority that runs it continue to make headlines week after week. This week in the Washington Post, Reetika Khera rounds up the lies, the frauds, the glitches and the hardships including denial of benefits and starvation deaths caused by Aadhaar.

Last week it was revealed that Android phones in India by default had the UIDAI toll free number (now defunct) as a contact in the phonebook.

UIDAI, COAS, GoI — no one seems to know how it got there.

Finally, it looks like they all threw Google under the bus.

Inadvertently. Yeah right.

UIDAI is in deep denial. I’m pretty sure that if you ask the UIDAI chief if he had breakfast he’d deny breakfast even existed. Despite having their lies of Aadhaar savings called out multiple times, they peddled their tiresome sales pitch again in a tweetstorm designed to overcome the twin embarassment of the Trai chiefs Aadhaar challenge and the UIDAI contact on Android phones.

This claim has been debunked repeatedly, and yet in UIDAI’s wild fantasies, the size of the savings just keep increasing.

The CAG itself has pegged most of the savings due to fall in LPG prices, and yet the UIDAI and the Union Government continues to blatantly lie about the benefits of Aadhaar.

There are indications that the Supreme Court will finally come out with a judgement on the Aadhaar case this month.


Crumbling Institutions — The Final Frontier

This week also marked the final descent of the RBI — an institution that hitherto prided itself on its independence from the political meddling of the current dispensation. Sure Urjit Patel was a yes man, and no Raghuram Rajan, but appointing S Gurumurthy as a director for a 4 year term?

Well, I guess he is joining the RBI to make his wet dream of Nano GPS enabled 2000 Rs notes come true.

I will make it happen!

Na Khaunga…

Rafale is becoming Modi’s Bofors. The sudden change in terms, the Ambani contract, and the flip flop on secrecy means the government has tied itself in knots and given the opposition the first whiff of a scandal. This week Prashant Bhushan, Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie attacked the government on the Rafale deal and pressured it to come clean on the price and terms of the deal.

The entire transaction is thus a textbook case of criminal misconduct, of misuse of public office, and of enriching parties at the expense of the national interest and national security.

The press clampdown, the prescreened interviews and speeches have kept this deal from exploding in the public consciousness, and Modi’s squeaky clean “Kaamdaar” image has people giving him the benefit of the doubt. Will the BJP be able to choke off further questioning in or out of Parliament? It’s quite likely that the Rafale deal will be a poll issue that Congress will seek to exploit. Since there is no hope of a non-partisan investigation into the matter, it’s upto the Opposition and those sections of the media that are still independent to hammer away at the government on this issue.

Jay Shah’s continuous misadventures aren’t helping their case. Caravan this week has a story on what could amount to election misconduct on part of Amit Shah.

Amit Shah mortgaged two of his properties for his son Jay Shah’s business venture Kusum Finserve LLP, which has recorded dramatic increase in credit facilities in recent years despite its poor finances. The BJP national president’s contingent liability with respect to this credit facility is, however, missing from his 2017 electoral affidavit.

The previous investigation by The Wire focused on Jay Shah’s Temple Enterprises and it’s dramatic rise and fall.

Caravan picked up where they left off, and discovered that Jay Shah moved his focus from Temple Enterprises to Kusum Finserve, doing remarkably well despite poor finances and zero experience in any of the sectors it deals in.

In March 2016, the firm received a loan of Rs 10.35 crore from the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency Limited, or IREDA, a public sector undertaking managed by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, for setting up a 2.1 MW wind-energy plant in Ratlam district in Madhya Pradesh, despite having no demonstrable experience in wind-power generation. Further, the loan was extended in violation of IREDA’s own rules and norms, which are specified on its website.

All it’s credit and loan facilities seem to be on the back of mortgages on papa Amit Shah’s properties, which he omitted to represent as liabilities on his election affidavit for the Rajya Sabha nomination, a possible disqualification criteria. Yeah like thats gonna happen.

Also not helping is the current heavy weight champion of the BJP who seems to have picked up the UPA’s bad habits pretty quickly. Newslaundry reports that Piyush Goyal has been rather profligate with our money, hiring chartered planes and flying private airlines when the GoI requires its Ministers to fly Air India unless absolutely necessary.

But the rules were bent and post-facto permission was requested after the trip, documents reveal. The Railways funded as many as 1,023 air trips by private airlines for Piyush Goyal, his fellow ministers, Rajen Gohain and Manoj Sinha and his predecessor Suresh Prabhu, ministers’ relatives, attendants, companions and their personal staff, from 2016 till date.

We can’t really blame him as he is currently Railways Minister, Finance Minister, Coal Minister, and may or may not be the mysterious unnamed Treasurer of the BJP.

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When you’ve got so many responsibilities, its impossible to keep track of little things like taxpayers money, or whether trains are running on time.

You know what they say- if you can’t fix the problem, fudge the data!

So that’s this weeks assault on democracy. Charges of corruption, malfeasance, misuse of public funds and office. Growing religious fervour and a system that looks the other way. Increasing state control over media and citizens. Just another week in the life of a fledgling, flailing state careening towards disaster. SOS.

Incels on the Rampage
While Media houses cower
pellet guns for Kashmiris
For Kanwariyas a petal shower